Using Small Claims Court to Recover Unpaid Wages
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
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If you are owed wages by your employer, read this to find out what you can do to get your money. #2200EN
- What is the minimum wage?
- Can I get extra pay for overtime work?
- Are the deductions on my paycheck legal?
- How often must the employer pay me?
- I am going to leave this job soon. When will I get my last paycheck?
- My employer did not pay me the minimum wage. What can I do?
- I am a farm worker. The employer did not pay me minimum wage or what they promised. What can I do?
- The employer did not pay the overtime I am entitled to. What can I do?
- The employer made illegal deductions to my paycheck. What can I do?
- What court should I sue the employer in?
- I need more legal advice.
What is the minimum wage?
In 2020, the minimum wage in Washington State for most workers 16 years and older is $13.50 an hour. For workers 14 and 15 years old, it is $11.48 an hour. The minimum wage usually goes up every year.
*In Seattle, the minimum wage is at least $15 an hour. In SeaTac, it is $16.34 an hour.
- Piece Rate Work: Generally, if the employer pays you on a piece rate basis, your total weekly wages should average at least the minimum wage for all hours worked in the week.
Undocumented workers (workers without legal work permits) also have the right to at least the minimum wage for hours worked.
Accepting Less: An employer may not pay less than the minimum wage. It does not matter if you agreed to get less.
Hours Included: You must get the minimum wage for all hours worked. This includes time the employer makes you spend waiting. Examples: time spent waiting for boxes, pick-up, weigh-in, and traveling between fields during the day. There is an exception for hand harvesters. The state law does not cover non-migrant farm workers who did piece-rate work in work the employer usually pays at a piece rate, if you worked fewer than 13 weeks in agriculture in the past calendar year.
Retaliation: It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against or fire you for making a complaint about wages, filing a court case, or testifying about a wage claim. Read Job Retaliation.
Can I get extra pay for overtime work?
Only for some agricultural work. You must get one and a half times the usual pay rate for any hours you worked over 40 hours in one week.
Farm workers generally have no right to overtime.
Packing shed workers generally do have the right to overtime.
Are the deductions on my paycheck legal?
Your pay stub must list and explain all salary deductions.
Deductions for Social Security and taxes are legal.
All deductions not legally permitted must be authorized (okayed) by you. You can do this orally or in writing.
Any deductions an employer makes for housing, transportation, tools, or other items that make your wages lower than the minimum wage may be illegal.
An employer cannot deduct money you owe them without your permission. Example: You damage the employer's equipment. The employer must sue you in court. The employer cannot deduct from your wages.
How often must the employer pay me?
Generally, an employer must pay farm workers regularly and every two weeks.
If the employer deliberately fails to pay your wages on payday, you can collect twice the wages owed, costs of going to court, and attorney's fees. It does not matter if the employer cannot pay.
I am going to leave this job soon. When will I get my last paycheck?
Your employer must pay you all unpaid wages by the next regular payday.
My employer did not pay me the minimum wage. What can I do?
You can sue for the wages they owe you, the costs involved in going to court, and attorneys' fees.
It does not matter if the employer cannot pay you. The only defenses are
The employer made a genuine mistake.
The employer has a sincere disagreement about how much it owes you.
I am a farm worker. The employer did not pay me minimum wage or what they promised. What can I do?
*If you are a farm worker who does not get your wages, see a lawyer right away. See contact information at the end.
You can put a lien on the employer's crop and/or orchard. You must file the right paperwork within 40 days after you stop working. Then the packing shed must pay you before paying your employer. Talk to a lawyer right away. Read Farm Workers: If the employer does not pay you, you may file a lien on the crop or orchard you worked.
The employer did not pay the overtime I am entitled to. What can I do?
You can sue the employer. You can ask for wages owed, the costs of going to court, and attorney's fees.
The employer made illegal deductions to my paycheck. What can I do?
You can sue the employer. You can ask for wages owed, the costs of going to court, and attorneys' fees.
What court should I sue the employer in?
If the employer owes you less than $10,000, you can sue in Small Claims Court. It can be a quick and cheap way to resolve things. Read What is Small Claims Court. Our How Do I Sue in Small Claims Court packet has court forms and instructions.
I need more legal advice.
If you are a farm worker trying to get back wages, contact these offices:
NORTHWEST JUSTICE PROJECT:
311 N. 4th Street, Suite 201
Yakima, WA 98901
300 Okanogan Avenue, Suite 3-A
Wenatchee, WA 98801
COLUMBIA LEGAL SERVICES:
600 Larson Building,
6 South Second Street
Yakima, WA 98901
300 Okanogan Avenue, Ste 2-A
Wenatchee, WA 98801
7103 W Clearwater Avenue Suite # C
Kennewick, WA 99336
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRIES:
15 W. Yakima Ave. Ste 100
Yakima, WA 98902
4310 W 24th Ave
Kennewick, WA 99338
3001 W. Broadway Ave.
Moses Lake, WA 98837
1815 Portland Ave.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
519 Grant Road
East Wenatchee, WA 98802
If you think you need a lawyer and your local legal services office cannot help, look for a lawyer who will charge a reduced fee for your first meeting.